Self-Care for the Weary Pastor

No items found
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Three kindergarten boys in blue shirts are playing at a child-sized table.
Moodboard/Thinkstock
If you want to care for others effectively without losing your mind, decide right now that your own times of Sabbath rest are going to be inviolable.

As a pastor, you’re called to look out for the needs of God’s flock.  Anybody who has spent any amount of time doing this kind of work knows how demanding it can be.  It requires in-depth knowledge of the Bible based on hours of intense scriptural study.  It involves teaching and preaching with an eye to “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”  It entails visiting the sick and dying, offering encouragement and guidance to the lost and lonely, unravelling the knots in the tangled-up lives of hurting people, and listening long and hard to folks who just feel the need of a sympathetic ear.  Sometimes it means doing all of this while holding down a second job in an attempt to make ends meet.          

Sound like a recipe for a mental breakdown?  That’s exactly what it can become if you don’t take deliberate and intentional steps to keep yourself sane in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.  Sanity is just another word for health, and neither physical nor mental health is automatically self-sustaining.  No one is immune to the wear and tear of too much, too often, and too soon.  If you want to stay in shape to serve God’s people as faithfully and effectively as possible, you’re going to have to come up with a strategy for fending off the demons of over-commitment and burnout.  We want to help you do just that. 

Sane Church, Sane Pastor

When it comes to maintaining your sanity, there’s a great deal to be said for the importance of operating within a healthy environment.  In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of “crazy” churches out there.  Some are so financially strapped that they ask way too much of their pastors and pay them way too little to do it.  Others are plain disorganized:  no one knows what’s happening, or when, or why, so they slap the whole mess on the minister’s plate and expect him to figure it out.  Still others are too rigidly controlled, whether by the elder board, the denominational hierarchy, or the whims and wishes of a dynastic “founding family.”  None of this is conducive to pastoral health or good, sound ministry and outreach.

This bears thinking about.  If you’re just out of college or seminary, searching for a job or candidating for a pastoral position, be sure to take a good, hard look at every opportunity that comes your way before signing anything.  Don’t take the plunge until you know exactly what you’re getting into.  Ask for a complete job description and don’t be afraid to negotiate the details.  Yes, that can be scary when you’re still on the outside looking in.  But believe us, you’ll be glad you did it later on. 

If you’re already in the middle of a frazzled, mind-bending situation, ask yourself what can be done to take your “crazy” church in the direction of order and sanity.  Institute a program designed to cure the ills and make the unhealthy environment safe.  If this precipitates a conflict or leads to a break between you and the “ruling powers,” so be it.  In that case, shake the dust off your feet and go somewhere else.  You’ll never be able to accomplish any real ministry anyway until you have a reasonably wholesome context in which to do it.

Healthy Attitude, Healthy Habits, Healthy Heart and Mind

Many pastors struggle to stay sane because they’re operating under the handicap of a flawed philosophy of Christian leadership.  Some are controlled by a sense of never-ending obligation and guilt.  Others pride themselves on their “self-sacrificial” dedication to “ministry” as a 24/7 proposition.  Both approaches are inherently self-destructive.  They eventually lead to burnout or something even worse.

If you want to care for others effectively without losing your mind, decide right now that your own times of Sabbath rest are going to be inviolable.  Maintain healthy personal boundaries and devote some careful thought – preferably in cooperation with your spouse – to a good time-management plan.  Don’t sacrifice family time or self-care time to the all-consuming demands of something you vaguely regard as “ministry.”  Remember that “minister” is a verb, not a noun.  It’s not who you are.  It’s just one of many things you do within the context of your life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

If you’re wise, you won’t allow the “job” to take over the totality of your existence and personal identity.  Among other things, that’s going to entail learning how to “pick your no’s” carefully.  Don’t be one of those pastors who feels responsible for everything and who fears the consequences of turning anyone down.  Instead, live as if you really believe in the sovereignty of God.  Remember that the universe doesn’t revolve around you.  

Doing Good Self-Care

Jesus Himself knew that self-care is an issue of the greatest importance.  That’s why He regularly took time out to re-fill His pitcher with Living Water.  You need to do the same.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of pastors and dedicated Christ-followers who don’t take their Lord’s example very seriously. Some actually believe that self-care has no place in the Christian life.  Self-care, in their view, is simply “selfish.”  These folks have forgotten that Jesus summed up the law in the words. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18).  If you don’t love yourself, you have no way of gauging the meaning of love for others.  

So how do you go about tackling this challenge?  We’d suggest that good self-care strategies or activities can be grouped under four major headings:  the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical

  1. Spiritual (Heart).  Prayer, Bible study, devotions, solitude, silence, and scriptural meditation all belong in this category.  The objective is to find a place apart from the daily grind where you can get in touch with God and discover who you are within the context of His love.
  2. Mental (Intellect).  Mental self-care – things like thinking, reading, and discussing important issues with others – supports psychological integrity by maintaining completeness, wholeness, and unwavering commitment to personal values and principles.
  3. Emotional (Soul).  The idea here is to stay in touch with how you’re doing by listening to your feelings, identifying your emotions, and then coming to a conclusion about what they mean and what you should do about it.
  4. Physical (Body).  This is probably the area that comes most readily to mind when we think about self-care.  It involves a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate rest and sleep, and a conscious effort to reduce stress.

We have a team of pastoral counselors on staff here at Focus on the Family who would be more than happy to discuss the importance of self-care with you.  If you feel inclined to take advantage of that option, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give us a call.  You can reach our counselors for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 1-844-4PASTOR.  The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for one of them to call you back as soon as possible.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.